As they spoke, they examined each other’s faces carefully. It seemed like mentioning Sang-je triggered both of them, in one way or another. They were unsure of the other’s relationship with him, so they had to hide their true thoughts.
Alber looked up at the sky. She felt impossibly trapped. I almost made a mistake again.
Unlike the sky in this dream, actual time wouldn’t stop for her. She couldn’t waste this precious opportunity that her family had made for her. She had to do everything she could.
Eugene looked at her nervously. “Yes?”
Alber looked at the girl with serious eyes. “The truth is that I came here to ask for your help?”
Then, the older woman shook her head. “No,” she said. “I’m not really asking for your help, it’s more like I want to tell you the truth. You will make your own choices after I do and that will be out of my control.”
She realized that she couldn’t ask this child to make up for all the sins of their ancestors. She herself had done unthinkable things in her life that she blamed on them, she couldn’t expect this girl to be any different. She just had to accept whatever came her way.
“I cannot tell you the story because we don’t have the time,” she explained. “But I will tell you the most important parts. It may sound ridiculous, but you must listen until the very end.”
Eugene nodded. “Of course. Please tell me.”
And so, the story unraveled before them.
Alber’s story started a thousand years after the larks showed up. Fighting them had become a part of life by the time Alber came of age.
No one actually knew about the ancient tribe that had ruled so long ago. Other than the kings and the Anikas, people were just living their lives as normal people. Those who summoned the larks—later known as gypsies—had left and no one knew where they had gone. Those who could see the future sealed the magic and went into hiding.
Alber’s tribe lived where most people had gathered: The Holy City. It was a town they had formed near a mine. The tribe themselves sold jade from the mine to make a living. The stones in the mine had little quality and only made up for it by their quantity, so the mine wasn’t worth much. No one really wanted it, but it was all the poor tribe had.
Their poverty was the least of the worries. When the larks were most active, they suffered many casualties in the fights that ensued. The tribe didn’t have a king or an Anika to protect them, and Alber was sick of the hopeless life they were living.
“I was the heir of the chief,” Alber told Eugene. “I was also a revolutionary and a dreamer. I wanted to bring good fortune to my tribe, to change our destiny.”
Eugene nodded. She understood Alber’s desperation. She also remembered Aldrit and felt sorry for everyone else who had lived with the sins of their ancestors.”
“Then, one day, I met it,” Alber said. “It came to me in the shape of a snake. It spoke. If it wasn’t for the horns on its head and its red eyes, I would have thought it had been sent by God. It was very smart, that snake. It could read people’s minds and play games with them.”
Her tribe had recorded all sorts of information about the larks. They were the ones that knew the larks best, and they knew that larks weren’t friendly creatures. They didn’t approach humans, they had no need to.
But it didn’t belong to either lark or human.
“Did you know that legendary creatures can relay messages to humans when they’re old enough?”
Eugene nodded. “I do.”
“Well, it’s quite an uncommon experience,” Alber said. “I didn’t know legendary creatures could speak. No one in my tribe did. I think that the thing I met was the first legendary creature to ever speak the human language.”
She had ignored the lark at first, but, as time wore on, the lark changed itself into many different creatures that always visited Alber.
“I shouldn’t have paid any attention to it,” she said. “But we became close because it kept coming to me. It made me feel special to be able to talk to a lark. I even found out a few things by talking to it.”
She learned that it could live amongst humans for a very long time and that it could even learn human intelligence. It developed its own personality and was soon able to think like a human as well. It even started asking questions, something only humans could do.
“It thought about its own existence,” Alber said. “I started to develop a very philosophical mind.”
Eugene was engrossed in the story. It seemed so strange and yet she couldn’t stop listening.
Alber continued. “It started exploring human knowledge,” she explained. “It wanted to learn what it truly was.”
Apparently, the story of the ancient tribe was still recorded, and the creature had found out the history of the larks and the tribe. It searched for the tribe that could see the future and that was how it came upon Alber.
“The monster suggested that we help each other out.”
It said that it would help the members of the tribe live bountiful lives with its magic. Alber rejected it because she knew it was a lark, but the creature was persistent. Even as she got older and started to have a family of her own, she always felt its presence.
During a particularly active season of larks, the monster finally forced its way into Alber’s life. Her mother had just died from a lark attack, and she was desperate. That was when she made a choice that she could never turn back from. She didn’t know that the lark had planned this all along.
Eugene’s face hardened as she heard this. “Could…” her voice wavered. “Could it be that the monster was Sang-je?”
Alber’s eyes widened in surprise. She hadn’t expected the girl to ask just like that. “Yes.”
“So, Sang-je is a lark,” the younger woman said. “He’s not an agent of God, not a human, but a lark?”
Alber nodded. She expected Eugene to be shocked, and she was so focused on watching the younger woman’s face that she didn’t realize Eugene had stopped using honorifics when she referred to Sang-je.
What a cunning monster he is, Alber thought to herself.
A cunning monster that now had so much control of humans under the guise of being God. If he had just been someone with power, he would have been easier to take down. But, as God’s agent, his power was rooted in the people’s beliefs. That was so much harder to destroy.
Eugene felt the puzzle pieces fall into place. That’s why the turtle and Sang-je speak the same way.
“To tell you the truth,” she told the old woman, “I already doubted his role as an agent of God. I actually thought that he was from the ancient tribe and that the Muen family was helping him.”
Alber frowned. Eugene’s calm attitude was the complete opposite of what she had expected. She had thought that the younger woman would react aggressively to the shocking news, but she hadn’t. Alber didn’t even understand what Eugene was saying at first because she was so focused on the woman’s reaction.
Eugene asked, “So, the Muen family isn’t helping him—I mean, it.”
“No!” Alber said immediately.
This changed everything.